Chad Snider, a band instructor at Nashwauk-Keewatin High School, was chaperoning the homecoming dance earlier this fall at school when he witnessed a comical scene that took him aback.
“Our student council uses the home [economics] room to cook frozen pizzas, and I was watching the kids struggle to cook,” Snider recently told the Hibbing Daily Tribune. “The pizzas were black and there were three or four of our best and brightest students looking at the pizza, saying, ‘I think it’s done.’ And I was like, ‘Yes, it was done 20 minutes ago.’” Snider laughed and described how the students then folded in half the cardboard beneath the pizza, using it like an oven mitt to pull the charred disc from the oven. “I was like, ‘Man, these kids don’t know how to cook.’”
new kind of club
The NKHS home economics room was abuzz with life and smells of food last Monday. Eight students in grades 6-12 washed dishes, peeled apples and chattered loudly in pairs, huddling over sinks. In a classroom that has sat mostly unused for years, the lively scene was a stark contrast. There is no home economics teacher at NKHS, and Snider felt there was a gap of afterschool activities for students outside of athletics or academics. After witnessing the frozen pizza fiasco, he decided to start the school’s very first after school Cooking Club.
“I’m not classically trained or anything, I just really like cooking and I like to share what I know,” he said. “My hope is that [the kids] will go home and maybe take over for their mom one night for dinner.”
The new cooking club kicked off in mid-October with five sessions scheduled for the first test run. The classes are capped at 14 students and they meet on Mondays to learn the basics of cooking from scratch. There is no formal funding, so Snider has been volunteering with help from Michele Carrigan, a high school teacher and head of the Indian Education program.
During the club’s first sessions, the students made chicken noodle soup and fettucini. Snider even added a bonus session by inviting them to come in early one morning before school to learn how to whip up omelets from leftovers.
As that Monday’s session got underway, Snider informed the group that they’d be trying something a little different. “It’s not all healthy. We want to have fun, so we’re baking pies tonight, and next week we’re going to cook a whole Thanksgiving meal.”
At least one pie would be for eating, he told them, but the others would be donated to the Nashwauk Fire Department. They’d recently received a donation from the firefighters for the club and Snider wanted to ensure they thanked them properly. “Everybody’s been really great supporting us,” Snider said, adding that the Nashwauk Fire Department, the Grand Rapids Area Community Fund and the Greenway Lions gave them money to buy food and supplies.
As apple peelings were being slung this way and that, Rachel Lasserre, a ninth grader at NKHS, was quietly toiling away at the recipe. She smiled from a curtain of short, brunette hair and told the HDT that she was happy she joined the club. “Just simply being here is fun,” Rachel said. “This is the first time I’ve actually really joined a club-like thing, so it’s a good experience for me.” She noted the soup they made the first day was really good and she likes that they’re able to take their food home.
A few feet away from Rachel stood Carter High, a sixth grader who is homeschooled about 40 miles away in Floodwood. Dutifully de-coring and slicing up his apples, he told the HDT, “I love cooking. Have you ever heard of Beef Wellington? I cooked it about a week ago.” Carter explained that he’s been helping his mother cook for as far back as he can remember. He’s accustomed to making meals from scratch, and was looking particularly forward to creating a lattice work top for the pie. It certainly wouldn’t be his first time.
While the group is usually larger, some students were out for sporting events or for illness. The rest remained hard at work as Snider’s wife, Sarah, an early childhood special education teacher in Grand Rapids, stopped in with their five-month-old daughter. She wasted no time rearranging the counter and teaching the students how to make the crust.
“My wife and I love to cook,” Snider said. “We catered our own wedding, actually. I don’t recommend it.” He paused. Then chuckled. “We did a Mexican feast with street tacos for 150 people. It was really stressful.”
Snider, who is originally from southwest Michigan, also happens to be the NKHS staff chilli cook-off champion. His zest for all things culinary is one he hopes will catch on with the students. The success so far has Snider dreaming up plans to make the club year-round.
“I’m going to try to teach the kids about nutrition but also costs,” Snider said. “When I give them a menu, I give them ingredients and a cost breakdown to show how much everything is at the grocery store and then how much it costs to make the serving that we make here in cooking club.”
With this method, he can show the students how the entire stock pan of soup they made cost $2-3 versus buying a single serving can of condensed soup that costs $0.92 cents. “So if you have a family of five, even though you think you’re saving money, you’re actually spending more.”
He envisions a field trip to the grocery store down the road to let the lesson sink in. “What I want to do is pair them up, give them $17 and say, ‘You don’t get paid until next week, you have hungry kids at home and you have to make dinner.’”
Working out the kinks
While a new club is exciting, it isn’t without hurdles. There are only two working ovens and stoves in the home economics room and Snider has been using a fridge in the teacher’s lounge to store ingredients. The students are also handwashing everything due to no dishwashers, and Snider has had to spend money loading up on everything from pantry basics — like spices and oils — to purchasing enough utensils and pans and portable stove tops so everyone can practice with their own.
“The chef knives alone where $250,” he said, explaining that he purchased one knife for each student. “I bought everything. And if we have any leftover ingredients, I usually give them to the kids because I don’t have anywhere to store it. We try to use everything.”
But any struggles have been overshadowed by the rewards. As the students bulk up on their cooking know-how, there are future collaborations in the works. Snider told the HDT that a local science teacher who is from India intends to visit one day and teach them how to make Indian cuisine. A Spanish teacher wants to teach them how to make tortillas, Mexican cuisine and salsa. A math teacher is interested in showing them how to process wild game and turn it into sausage.
“I’m trying not to just teach your homestyle recipes but also some different cultures,” Snider said.
He has dreams of expanding the club with continued community support. As he trains the students, his hope is that they’ll share their kitchen skills with their younger classmates and help them build upon their repertoire of edible creations.
“It’s a good group of kids and I’m excited to see them excited,” Snider said. “I told them I grew up with jar alfredo sauce and frozen pizzas and there’s something special about when you make it homemade. Plus you can add your own spice to it. It’s really exciting.”
Anyone interested in making a donation to the Cooking Club can reach Snider at firstname.lastname@example.org.